Consumer Watchdog Demands Full Investigation by Senate Leader of Racist Emails Written By Staffer In Key Role On Cleanups At Top Toxics Agency

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Santa Monica, CA — Consumer Watchdog today urged Senate pro Tempore Kevin de Leon to fully disclose racist emails written by scientists and other staff at the Department of Toxic Substances Control and to conduct a full investigation into the matter.

DTSC emails Consumer Watchdog obtained from Public Records Act requests contain phrases such as “crackho hooker” in reference to low-income immigrant communities, “Chop-chop Hop Sing” in reference to a subservient Chinese cook on the TV series Bonanza, and “Mommy must have had way too many pain killers when she named this guy” in reference to a DTSC coworker with an Asian name.

“On behalf of Consumer Watchdog, we write to present you with racist emails written by staffers at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and to ask that you demand full disclosure and a full investigation,” Consumer Watchdog wrote in an letter.

For the letter, see:

Consumer Watchdog’s letter continued, “These staffers are in charge of determining whether toxics exist at dirty sites, whether they threaten human health, and what level of cleanup they will get. These emails were filled with derogatory repartee and cartoons against Asians, Latinos, and African Americans.

For the emails, see:

“We think you will agree that it’s outrageous that those charged with protecting communities would slander them with racist stereotypes. These staffers should be removed immediately.”  

A majority of people who live near toxic hazardous waste facilities or on toxic land are overwhelmingly low-income minorities, and face disproportionate and cumulative burdens from environmental pollution, the letter said.

“The fact that racist staffers who influence how much attention sites get, if they are cleaned up, and to what level is deeply troubling,” the letter continued. “Many such communities have complained over the years about cleanups that never happen or are not completed, the dispensing of permits to serial hazardous waste polluters, and wrist-slap fines. These emails suggest government investigations of toxic sites have been laced with bias…

To allow racist thinking at the DTSC, and not to question its relationship to whether such communities are protected against toxic harm, is unacceptable. [DTSC Director Barbara] Lee should be responsible for implementing a true zero tolerance policy, for research into its effects on policy decisions, and for deep reform based on those findings. Now more than ever, it is time for the legislature to step in and reform the agency by publicly disclosing the problem and using it as a template for how to deal with racism at all environmental agencies, or to shut it down.”

Today, representatives of 35 groups from largely low-income, minority communities that are overwhelmingly located near hazardous waste facilities or who live on toxic land, appeared before the DTSC’s Independent Review Panel overseeing the troubled agency’s reform, and made the same demands of Governor Brown and the legislative leaders.

For their press release, see:

For more on the DTSC emails, see:

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Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker
Liza Tucker is a consumer advocate for Consumer Watchdog, following everything from oil and gas to the regulation of toxic substances in the state of California. She comes to us from Marketplace, the largest U.S. broadcast show on business and economics heard by ten million listeners each week on 400 radio stations. Liza worked at this public radio show for a decade, first as Commentary Editor and then as Senior Editor for both Washington and Sustainability News.

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